Polish delegation visits Cleveland Heights

“You are glowing with pride,” said Leszek Gorgol. “It is nice to hear you tell us about Cleveland Heights.”

Mr. Gorgol spoke, through a U.S. State Department interpreter, as one of ten visitors from Poland who recently visited Cleveland Heights. The Poles are leaders in local and regional governments and nonprofit organizations.

A meeting of the delegation and several local leaders was arranged by Deanna Bremer Fisher, executive director of FutureHeights, after a contact from the Cleveland Council on World Affairs. The Council is assisting the U. S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program to provide opportunities for the Polish delegation to meet with local government officials and community activists throughout the U.S. The visitors hope to learn about civic engagement, nonprofit organizations, fundraising, and economic development.

Bremer Fisher welcomed the delegation in the Levey Room of the Main Library. She explained the unique mission and programs of FutureHeights, including publication of this newspaper, the Heights Observer. She also discussed the organization’s programs promoting local business, historic preservation, civic engagement, and other features of local quality of life.

Four Cleveland Heights representatives, including Bremer Fisher, were on hand to talk about Heights-style civic engagement. Susanna Niermann O’Neill, Cleveland Heights vice city manager, presented perspectives from local government and from her long personal involvement with the community. Lita Gonzalez, director of PATH (Parent Ambassadors to Heights Project), spoke about involvement with the schools and shared her family’s experiences living in the Heights. Mark Majewski, board president of FutureHeights and a consulting community planner, also spoke about personal and public involvement in the community.

During a lengthy question and answer session, the visitors sought information on the relationships between government and nonprofits, the challenges facing local businesses, and “ways to get young people involved.” One visitor asked about issues of access to public spaces and to the arts for persons with disabilities. Yet another asked for solutions to the age-old problem of young people leaving the village for the big city – and not returning. A question about parental involvement and influence in the public schools elicited extensive response from the hosts.

One of the interpreters, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, suggested that “the infrastructure which supports volunteerism and civic involvement” is not yet as strong in Poland and some other parts of Europe as in the United States. It was apparent that building that “infrastructure,” and civic engagement and community growth, are the goals for which the visitors sought ideas, encouragement, and inspiration.

This brief encounter of visiting leaders and a handful of local leaders may contribute to successful pursuit of those goals in Poland. The local participants came away from the discussion with increased appreciation for the opportunities already available in our community.

Mark Majewski is a 20-year resident of Cleveland Heights and a community planning consultant.

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Volume 1, Issue 7, Posted 4:41 PM, 09.23.2008